Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Evening

A pretty sky, but I want to see grey clouds billowing over the ridge
 The dogs and I took our two mile walk this evening.  It was good to take that trek up and down our hills.  A fine way to end the year.

Today, when I checked the online weather, I read that this is officially the driest year on record for California -- just a bit over 6 inches of rain since last January.  That's barely a drop.

As I walked, I could see at every turn how dry it was.  The pond is as dry as a bone.

If you look closely, you can see the baby grass stretching their tiny leaf blades upwards.  They need the wet stuff.  Soon, please.

So I'm doing the rain dance -- Rain!, Rain!, Rain!  I'm hopeful that the wet stuff will soon come down.

Happy New Year

Friday, December 27, 2013

Loom Work

 After months of the yarn just sitting around and gathering dust, I got the Northern Lights scarf woven and off the loom in less than a week.  It was an easy one to weave (threading the reed with all those narrow stripes was a bit of a bear, though).

It's always with a feeling of great satisfaction that I finally take a project from the loom.  First it's cut from the back beam...

Then I go around to the front and pull all the yarn through the reed.

I release the brake and gently unwind the scarf from the front beam.  It's suspenseful revealing the earliest weaving which has been rolled up and covered away since I began.  A master weaver's work looks the same at both ends.  Mine rarely does -- I either beat the yarn down more loosely as I go along, or else pack it down more tightly.

This project was no exception.  Nothing too terribly noticeable, but the far end definitely has a looser weave than the beginning. Ahh, well.

I untied it from the front and then rigged up my little fringe-factory on the dining room table:  cutting board, rotary blade, scissors, tape measure and a wide ruler.

Also two kitchen griddles to weight everything securely down, plus one Snowshoe Siamese on my lap and a cup of coffee near at hand.

Making twisted fringe is sort of fun, although I'm always impatient to finish and glad when the last group of threads has been counted, twisted and knotted.

Here is the scarf before washing...

And here it is after.  After scrutinizing it closely I could find no glaring flaws -- always cause for celebration.  I'm happy with how this came out.

I bought more of the silk/alpaca blend yarn in similar colors and have already warped up enough to weave three more scarves in the same pattern.  This time I'm going to play with using different colors for the weft, plus beat the yarn just a little more firmly to pack the weft down a bit.

There is something about weaving that's very healing.  It's a kind of very quiet therapy.  The repetition of movements, the need to focus on the moment so as not to lose track of the pattern, and the interplay of colors as they cross each other is very soothing to the soul.  And then at the other end, here is this lovely scarf created from the hundreds of intersecting threads.  Amazing.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Boxing Day

Today I planned to plant more of our forest of baby trees -- pines, oaks and cedars.  But first I set myself the task of raking up the messy litter of leaves and pine needles around the house and tidy up the raised beds.  The sorry, sodden mess of dead flowers, vegetables and fallen leaves (the latter artfully concealing dog poop) was too ugly to try to ignore any longer.  The good thing is that I got most of this done.  The bad thing is that it took until after the sun had set and the stars were showing in the sky.  It was a lot of leaves.  And dog poop.  And dead veggies.  But now the area to the side of the house looks...presentable.  I still need to finish clearing out the beds, pruning the roses and cutting back the flowering sage.  The pomegranate tree needs pruning too and the raised beds still need some work.  But we're getting there.

It was a good day to work outside.  The little girl in my class who was in the car accident died yesterday -- Christmas Day.  As I said, today was a good day to work outside.  With the passing years and the passing of loved ones all along the way, I've become familiar with all the thoughts and emotions that a death brings.  What makes this so different and difficult is knowing that today our principal called every parent of every child in the 4th grade to break the news.  He is a remarkable and incredibly good man.  Today 45 children will have their worlds changed forever and they will cry.

I thought about this while I raked, piled leaves in the cart and trundled it back and forth from the compost pile.  There is no getting around the sorrow that seeps through everything right now, but through it all I know that all of the children will be alright.  Counselors will be called in and there will be all sorts of support for all the students at our school.  But I'm thinking about what I can do in my own classroom to honor the child that died and take care of the rest of my little flock.  So far I'm considering planting flowering trees, bringing my fish tank in and perhaps having a cage of finches chirping and fluttering in the classroom.  All of this sounds like such fluff in comparison with this tragedy, but I have hopes that such small things will somehow lighten hearts a bit.  I expect us to write and talk and cry together.  I'm getting ready to be the teacher I need to be.  We'll be fine.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve

This year, no cut tree for us.  Instead, last weekend we picked out this little incense cedar in a ten gallon pot to decorate for the holidays and then plant.  It's a Charlie Brown sort of tree -- slightly atilt, and quite scraggly and bare in places.  But still, in its own way, it's a pretty little thing.

Tonight it was a blaze of twinkle lights (all two strands), garlanded with red wooden beads and hung with straw stars.  It stands right outside the double doors to our livingroom, so it's almost inside.

This year is a very different sort of Christmas for us.  However, it still has it's magic.  We had a quiet dinner and then Bruce and I went for a walk around what would be our pond if it had water in it.  No moon at all and the stars shone bright in the cold sky.  Up at the house, we could see our little cedar twinkling away.  We only tripped a few times over the two cats and two dogs who came along with us.  

The events of the past two days are weighing on me, but this special night holds something in it that somehow comforts a sad heart.  I send out best wishes to all on this Christmas Eve.

Christmas Eve Morning

This is the sight that greeted me out the back door this morning.  What greater blessing than a sunrise such as this?

Yesterday was mixture of happiness and sorrow.  I went down to Stockton to have lunch with daughter Liz at a small Vietnamese diner.  Over steaming bowls of noodle soup, we had the kind of warm conversation that fills the heart.  Love will do that.  This makes me realize that such a feeling is right up there with  the glow of a dawn sunrise.

After leaving her, I drove to Costco to pick up a small microwave to replace the one above our stove that broke.  The parking lot was packed and teeming with cars, shopping carts and people hurrying about.  Inside the store was even worse.  However, rather amazingly, all around me people were being kind -- smiles, offers to help me lift the microwave box, and patience with good grace in the long lines.  Another blessing.

And then, as I stood in line in the midst of the noise and bustle of Costco, my phone rang and it was my principal telling me that one of our 4th grade students had been in a car accident.  Her head was badly injured and she had been airlifted to the hospital in Davis for surgery.  As of last night, the outlook (short of a miracle) is bleak.

This morning when I got up, I checked my phone and email for any updates.  No news.  So I went outside in my bathrobe and spent some time with this golden Christmas sunrise.  A blessing.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Fox Says, "Dance!"

Two days until winter break.  As I do every year, I've put together the pieces that our two 4th grade classes will perform at our Christmas program.  Our principal knows how to square dance, so the past three years we've had him help us teach the moves to the children and it's been a real crowd pleaser.  This year I also hauled out a poem called "The Ballad of a Fox" for the classes to recite.   It's a traditional piece that is pretty cute when the kids say it with lots of expression.  However, when I first told them that we were doing this poem, they thought I was talking about a new dance song that went viral on YouTube called "What does the Fox Say?"  It's a joke song put out by a Norwegian group, but the beat and silly lyrics are perfect for an energetic group of ten-year-olds.  The children were disappointed, but stoic, when they learned that they were reciting a dumb old poem instead of dancing to this ridiculous song.

This morning, when I was typing out my announcer notes, it hit me that it would be funny if, after they finished the square dance number, they hijacked the sound system and blasted out "What does the Fox Say?".  We gave it a try today and the children lit up the room when they launched into the dance.  There are about six students who are heavily involved in dance and they knew exactly what to do.  The other students (even the shy ones) followed their lead.  The room was rocking.  Forty-seven 4th graders arm-pumping, singing, shimmying and hopping around like the wild little foxes they are.  Mrs. Heflin and I locked elbows and we swung around to the music, much to the children's delight.

Fun times -- now that's Christmas!

Here is the link to the song video:

Ylvis - The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?) [Official music video HD ...

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Project

Last January an issue of Handwoven Magazine arrived with a picture of a gorgeous scarf on the cover  that screamed, "Weave me!"

"Yes, I will!" I enthusiastically replied.

I immediately sent off for the yarns (an alpaca blend -- fabulously expensive stuff, as I learned) and they arrived the next week.  I lined up the colors, set up my warping board and commenced winding warp.

Then I got busy.  And more busy.  Sadly, the stuff I got busy with was everything but weaving.

Fast-forward twelve months.  Last weekend, I finally blew the dust off my warping board, found the cones and hanks of yarn (which had migrated and were now integrated with all my other yarn), unearthed the pattern and instructions and then sat down and re-figured out what I was supposed to do (more difficult than getting things together the first time because everything was a little messed up and I had to make sense of what I'd already done.  No easy task).

The pattern is an extended point twill

After having this project looming (Ooow -- a weaving pun!) in the background of every day for almost an entire year, it's quite a satisfaction to finally have it actually on the loom.

And here it is.  I've only just begun the weaving, but it's fun and the pattern is an easy one to remember.

Naturally, I'm left asking myself what took me so long to get this going.  It feels wonderful to sit behind my loom again.  Good therapy!
When off the loom and washed, the threads will mesh more (the yellow band at the bottom will be removed)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Arby, the Jolly, Holly Christmas Cat

                                    "Bah!  Humbug"

Maybe not so much Scrooge... put a Santa hat on our boy and tint him green, and we'd have a Grinch.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Who to Believe?

Old Farmer's Almanac Long Range Weather Forecast

Annual Weather Summary: November 2013 to October 2014

Winter will be much rainier and cooler than normal, with mountain snowfall much greater than normal. Most of the rain, snow, and storminess will come in January and February, when storm damage will be a concern. The coldest periods will be in mid-December and mid- to late January.

                                                         As opposed to:
California Department of Water Resources Long Range Weather Forecast
The Sacramento region and California as a whole can expect a third dry winter ahead.

"Rainier and cooler than normal" as opposed to "a third dry winter ahead" -- The Old Farmer's Almanac people and the folks at CA Dept. of Water Resources have a bit of a difference of opinion on our rain outlook.  Although logic tells me that I should believe the more science-oriented report from the California agency, I'm hoping like crazy that Old Farmer's is on the money with this one.  Every time I look down into the barren pit that is/was our pond, I wonder what it would be like to have a summer arrive when there was no water at all in it.  This has never happened -- no matter how dry the winter, there's always been enough rain to give our frogs something to swim in.

Come on Farmer's Almanac!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Be it ever so humble, there's no place like sitting in front of a warm fire on a cold winter night.  Just ask five cats, two dogs, one husband and me.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Chilly Sunday

 Another happy Frogpond Sunday.  Bruce and I went down to Modesto for a day of errands in town, lunch at our favorite Japanese restaurant and a stop at the feed store on the way home.

It's now evening and the geese are tucked in for the night in their nice cozy stall.  At first they didn't like the light in there, but now they hurry right over and hunker down under it.

The new truck, christened "Thor" (surprise -- we name all of our cars) went to town today sporting a red Rudolf nose.

The next week will continue very cold, but after tonight we'll slowly be warming up to the 30's again.  There's no rain in the forecast.  Our poor "pond" is now a very large hole in the ground with a thin layer of rotten snow covering the bottom.  All I want for Christmas is rain...

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Snow Day

 During the night I could hear the wind blowing a mix of rain and snow against the windows.  In the morning, we looked out to sort-of white hills.  It's such a rare thing for these hills to be anything but gold or green (or, sadly, black) that the whiteness changes everything.

In the back flower bed, bedraggled pansies poke through the snow.  It's hard to believe that they can survive this cold.  We'll see how they look in a few days.
The geese marched right out of their stall when I slid it open and hurried through the snow to their grain pan.  The snow didn't seem to concern them or bother their big, flat goose feet.

The hens, on the other hand, crowded outside as soon as I raised their door...and then turned around and went back inside their nice warm coop.

Murphy had never been in snow like this before.  We now call him Mr. Iditarod.

As we walked, the snow dripping and melting in the sun, we decided that it would make sense to haul out Cornelius for his annual Christmas photo shoot.  As usual, Corny was filthy, hairy and in no mood to cooperate.  Also, as usual, he allowed me to decorate him and allowed me to wire red-glitter deely-bobbers to his halter.  Our only setback was the two times he managed to get his teeth onto the red balls on the ends of the wires.  He was quick, but I was quicker and managed to get them out of his mouth before he could chew them.

Ho, Ho, Ho!

Friday, December 6, 2013

More Cold

Tonight is the night of our annual staff Christmas party.  Every year it's held at a private saloon  (yes, a private saloon.  Don't ask.)  -- the drink flows, the food is great and there is much hilarity as people open their white elephant gifts.  I'm not absolutely certain, but I think that I'll be skipping the festivities this year.  I just want to stay home and toast in front of the fire.

The annuals in the garden have thrown in the towel.  The marigolds still look bright because they are in a shocked sort of suspended animation -- they don't know that they're dead.  Yet.  

The skies are clouding up and the temperatures are actually a bit warmer because of the cloud cover.  Snow is predicted for tonight and tomorrow morning.  I'm eager to see what's in store.

When I got home from school this afternoon, Zelda immediately leapt onto the car to bask in the warmth from the engine.  

Yes, it's official.  We're skipping the party tonight.  Life is good.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


The weather continues cold, cold, colder.  For people that can count on frigid, below-freezing temperatures in the winter I realize that this is nothing.  But for us, in the land of thin jackets and lemon trees, a number like 22 degrees Fahrenheit is literally and figuratively numbing.

This afternoon, when I got home from school, I decided that the hens, in their uninsulated coop,  could not be left another night without additional warmth.  So I ran an extension cord from the barn to the coop and hooked up a heat lamp from the chain of their feeder.  My own heart warmed up and grew happy when I saw the rosy light shining from the crack at the bottom of the door of their coop.

When I peeked in, my dear hens, perched among the rafters, looked supremely happy in their new coziness.

It's the little things.

While I was at it, I also set up a heat lamp in stall #3 of the barn where the four geese are penned at night.  They probably have enough fat to insulate them from the frostiest of nights, but it comforted me to warm their space too.

Tomorrow night, it's supposed to snow (!) and Saturday night is forecast to get down to 19 degrees F.  Cold.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Winter Arrives

Cold! Cold! Cold! After a balmy Thanksgiving week last week (perfect for planting baby trees), an Arctic cold front has dramatically dipped down into our part of California.  Last night, despite Bruce's efforts, the pipes froze.  We discovered this dismal fact in the morning when we turned on the tap and nothing came out.  Heating water in a pot in order to wash one's face is certainly a primitive way to start a Tuesday morning...

By Friday, we've got an 80% chance of rain and snow here in Copperopolis.  That's the night of our staff Christmas party and I'll admit to a hope that we're rendered housebound by the weather.  I suppose that a party can be fun, but it can't compete to an evening at home in front of the fire with a cat on my lap, a good movie on the TV and cup if mulled wine in hand.  I love winter.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Day Before, The Day, and The Day After Thanksgiving

Acorn Woodpecker getting lunch at Murphys

Uncle Mike has gone back to Arizona and I'm back at work.  Funny how quickly holidays pass.  The to-do list of the many things I planned to accomplish has very few items checked off of it.  No matter -- the days were filled with quiet pleasures.  Perhaps this counts more than any number of check marks on a list.

Here are a few pictures from the day before Thanksgiving, when we visited Murphys, Ironstone Winery, and Calaveras Tree Farm.
Flower at Ironstone Winery

Goldfinches having lunch

The owner, Mick, and I loading up trees at Calaveras Tree Farm

Picking out trees -- heaven!

Mick picking acorns for me from a Japanese Oak

When we left Murphys, we drove over to the town of Valley Springs to pick up a few trees from my favorite nursery.  They specialize in oak trees of all varieties and I've been visiting at least once a year for the past 30 years.  On this visit I learned that the owner, Mick, was finally retiring.  A man of few words, all he said about that was, "It's time."  I understand, but I'm still sad to lose this small but precious part of my life.

Naturally, I ended up by buying many more trees than I'd originally planned (plus Mick threw in 6 more at no charge.  I love that man).  Knew we bought that truck for a reason!
Our truck with a small forest in the back

Thanksgiving Day 

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Little brothers never change...

Mike, Bruce, Mama and Ian

Uncle Mike at his leisure (resting up for the next day)

The day after Thanksgiving was tree-planting day at Frogpond.
Mike and I managed to get two holes dug by chipping away at the rock for most of the afternoon while Bruce brought up dirt from the dried out pond to build up the banks.  

Baby Blue Oaks

And now my mind is filling up again with school.  I miss Mike...